Freedom and Responsibility

Erik Wesner, of Amish America, brought up an interesting issue about Amish in Kentucky who are refusing to use the orange triangle on the backs of their buggies. Here is my opinion added to the mix:

With every freedom comes a responsibility. No car drivers have use of the roads, paid for by all, without obeying the rules of the road, so why should buggy drivers be allowed to use the road and ignore all safety precautions? In my opinion, the Amish should be choosing their issues — the triangle is a trivial issue. If the government were to outlaw buggies because of safety issues, then perhaps they would have an issue. Having said this, I don’t believe the triangle is going far enough. There is a huge difference in how visible buggies are from one community to another. When I was in Shipshewana, Indiana, I was appalled at how hard it was to see the buggies at night… and this in a “high” Amish group. In Geauga County, Ohio, the Amish have adopted LED lights, both flashing in the back and “headlights” in the front and there is reflector tape outlining the back of the buggy… in flat places, one can see a buggy from a mile away. Now it is up to car drivers to take the proper precautions and slow down. 

I once had an experience in my old neighborhood that outlines the issue by taking the Amish beliefs out of the equation. I was backing out of my driveway — I’d looked both ways, but at the height of cars or someone walking. I was ready to back up, but intuition told me to look again… partly because I noticed a mother walking her baby in a stroller, and I knew she had two other children. Lo and behold, right behind my back tires, was a little toy car, driven by a five-year-old, and she had stopped right behind my back tire, barely visible in my rear-view mirror. Her little sister was in the “passenger” seat. Had I backed up, and hit those two little towheads, I would have felt guilty for the rest of my days, and probably had nightmares about it, too. And yet none of it would have been my fault… 

This is the side people don’t take into account when they hear of a buggy accident, in which someone was hurt or killed. What about the person who was driving responsibly, and could not avoid the accident, simply because he or she could not see the buggy? That is as tragic for the car driver as it is for the people who were hurt — how does one recover from such a thing? Sure, the Amish would forgive you, but could you forgive yourself? I know I would be saying “If only….” for the rest of my life. By chalking everything up to God’s Will, we are not taking into account our own will and our sense of responsibility. In my mind acting responsibly is bringing our own will into alignment with God’s. 

I wrote the other day, about the Amish ability to take what comes, and their sense of not taking life for granted. In my mind, for the “low” Amish to ignore safety precautions as they drive their buggies on the road is an example of taking this point of view to an extreme. I’m glad for all of us that most Amish have a more moderate approach to life and do take precautions and are responsible buggy drivers.
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7 thoughts on “Freedom and Responsibility”

  1. This hits home as I live in an area near a large “low” Amish community. The higher Amish around where I live have adopted the LED blinking lights as well as some of them even putting reflective bands on their horse’s legs. I really appreicate all the effort these groups have gone to in order to try and stay visible to other drivers in all weather conditions and at night.

    I am glad you were able to avoid your “near” accident. Despite the fact that I am extremely cautious while driving at night, I have still had several close calls; I just pray that I will be able to avoid them somehow or another.


  2. Accidents do happen, which is why they’re called that, but knowing you can do something to possibly prevent one and choosing not to especially if there is a law regarding it is just willful disobedience. Bill has discussed this at length with a local bishop a number of times to no avail … the sherrif had said, ‘enough talk, just start writing tickets’ so the deputies did. Bill and Joe parted on friendly terms but Bill tossed it all back to the sherrif :-) Thankfully, this community in particular does use reflective tape but it’s gray and shows up at night better than nothing at all; but the orange is much more noticeable; which is why they won’t use it … too much attention being drawn to their buggies!!!! Locals don’t pay any attention to them in the first place and this area is not a tourist area so I don’t get it. Certainly not a prideful thing or a problem with humility … The occasional out of towner gets surprsed here and there, lets hope it’s not at the crest of a hill or at night on a curve…

    Thankful you took the time to check behind you, again… I backed over our dog who used to lay under the back wheel ALL the time. She moved when I chased her and as I got into the car, she went right back to “her” spot! She survived with nothing but a bruised stomach but I almost didn’t.

  3. I just saw this the other day on Amish America; I was unaware that there were groups that refused to use the safety triangles, etc. My experience with observing the Amish is in Lancaster, PA, and I know they use them there.

    I agree with you. We are not just talking about safety for the Amish, but for other drivers. Yes, the latter has less at risk in their car perhaps, but still the risk exists. We are all drivers on the same road and with that privilege comes responsibility.

    So good to see you over at my blog. I know you’ve been busy with your book and all (which is great!:). I’ve not been making my usual rounds lately. Need to get back into it again.

    Have a great week!


  4. I say a prayer every time we head home from visiting our son’s family on a Sunday eveninig. It seems many of the Amish are heading home at dusk. The roads are hilly and curvy and many do not use the orange triangles. They are almost impossible to see until it is too late. We drive with caution but I feel they have a responsibility to do what they can to protect them and their families.

    Your point about the horrendous guilt that would follow is so right, even though the driver did nothing wrong.

    On another note, I have read your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Someday soon I will send you a note saying more. Thank you again for writing the book and for giving a copy. I look forward to your next book.


  5. Hi Saloma,
    This is such an interesting blog post! While Australia does not have Amish communities as you do in the US, I have visited with the Amish, and in particular, in Shipshewana!! I even had a buggy ride myself :)
    I look forward to reading your book! Do you know if it’s in Aussie stores?
    Dorothy :)

  6. Hi : I firmly agree with you about the guilt that would follow an accident caused by a buggy not being visible at night. I live among a Swartzentruber Amish Community in Central NY And its tough driving at night since all they have on their buggies is white reflector tape an a small kerosene lamp. We moved up here a year ago and I had no idea that Swartzentruber Amish lived this way since I grew up Amish in Lancaster County PA and in the early 1950’s the State of PA outlawed Kerosene lamps & just tape on Buggies. I need to get your book & read about, Thanks Ammon Fisher

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